WHAT: Clemson vs. Louisville
WHEN: 7 p.m., Monday
WHERE: Freedom Hall (18,865)
Basketball watchers everywhere like to say that the winner of the NIT is the 66th-best team in the country.
Of course that's not true, but people still poke fun at those partaking in the "Not Invited Tournament." However, those involved take it very seriously, as well they should.
By just taking a quick glace at some of the teams involved, it's clear that it isn't a cakewalk to the semifinals at Madison Square Garden, the most famous arena in all of sports.
"I feel like we were two free throws and a stop away (from the NCAA Tournament), but you've got to take what you're given," said Tigers senior guard Shawan Robinson. "It's a great opportunity. We want to ride it out as far as we can – hopefully to the Garden and a national championship. It's not the national championship, but it is a national championship.
"I want to live to play another day. When we lose it's over, and I realize that. Every practice could be your last. Most of us have it figured out – you've got 12 days left, and that's if you go all the way. That's what I intend to do. I want to make my career last another game."
In order to fulfill his goal of making it to New York City, Robinson and the Tigers have to go into another famous basketball arena and take on one of the most famous basketball coaches from any league.
Clemson plays at 7 p.m., Monday night at Louisville, which plays in Freedom Hall and is coached by the renowned Rick Pitino.
Even though the Cardinals had a season far worse than expected, it's still Louisville, Pitino and Freedom Hall.
"It's one of those historic, legendary gyms right in there with Cameron Indoor and the Dean Smith Center," Robinson said. "It's great to get a chance to play against a great institution as well as Coach Pitino."
Even as famous as the program and the coach are, Clemson coach Oliver Purnell understands the task at hand, but he's not daunted by the prospect of trying to get a win.
"They're a storied basketball program – a good team," he said. "And we've got to go to their place, so it's going to be quite a challenge. …
"Every game gives you something else to motivate you. I think we'll be motivated because of Louisville – their name, going out there on the road, a chance to get 20 wins, and a chance to continue to advance in this tournament and a chance to be a champion.
"I coach in the ACC, so it's (Mike) Krzyzewski one night, Roy Williams the next night, Gary Williams the next night so it doesn't really do much for me. I know Rick. I think he's a fantastic coach, but we've gone against those kinds of people all year long."
Louisville begins and ends with star guard Taquan Dean, who is averaging 16.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. He is the one of the main reasons the Cardinals went to the real Final Four.
Dean loves to drive to the hoop, as well as stand in the perimeter and jack up three-pointers. He literally is a player who can do it all.
He will be Clemson's main focus and if the Tigers are successful in slowing him down, they will likely be just one more win shy of NYC.
And Purnell expects nothing less.
"We've struggled sometimes with dribble penetration," Purnell said. "I think when we're focused in on stopping the dribble penetration, we can be pretty good.
"I think we'll have to play better, be more consistent. We can't let up at all. It's got to be one of those 15-round deals. One of the tremendous things about this team is its ability to get ready to play; it's something we've grown to rely upon no matter what the circumstances."
PROBABLE LINE UPS
Clemson (19-12 overall, 7-9 ACC)
G 22 Shawan Robinson (6-2, 180) 12.3 ppg, 2.7 apg
G 25 Cliff Hammonds (6-3, 197) 9.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg
C 33 Akin Akingbala (6-9, 240) 11.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg
F 1 K.C. Rivers (6-5, 210) 7.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg
F 42 Julius Powell (6-7, 208) 5.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg
Louisville (19-12 overall, 6-10 Big East)
G 5 Taquan Dean (6-3, 185) 16.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg
G 11 Brandon Jenkins (6-3, 185) 11.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg
C 44 Brian Johnson (6-9, 245) 2.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg
F 1 Terrence Williams (6-6, 220) 8.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg
F 3 Juan Palacios (6-8, 255) 10.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg
Tigers Look to Advance at Louisville
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